Photo by city of Austin
Mercedes-Benz dealership nearing construction
Tuesday, July 12, 2022 by Willow Higgins
A Mercedes-Benz dealership is one step closer to construction in South Austin after the Environmental Commission recommended a variance request last week, allowing private driveways to be built on the site in a critical water quality zone buffer.
To comply with the Austin Fire Department’s regulations, the development needs to have two private driveways so the property is easily accessible in case of a fire. Complicating the matter, the site at Interstate 35 and FM 1626 sits adjacent to a man-made water channel that was built to support a previous development. The channel houses enough water that it now qualifies as a critical water quality zone, requiring a code variance to build in the surrounding area.
The variance request, which was conditionally recommended by staff at the Development Services Department and subsequently recommended by the commission, will allow the driveways to be built where they need to be.
The commission recommended the variance with conditions, meaning that they can build the driveways as long as they do a number of other things that will improve the environmental health of the area. Development Services staff recommended the variance provided that they increase the averaged area in the buffer of the critical water quality zone, revegetate throughout the entire zone and plant more trees on the vehicle storage lot than were initially proposed.
“When you look at it now, how it’s going to look after we’re out there and we’ve planted trees and done additional vegetation, increased the buffered area, you’re going to have an area that is advantaged from an environmental standpoint,” said Eric Vann, who represented the applicant at the meeting.
The Environmental Commission added two conditions to the request: firstly, that the development incorporate water quality measures, including a rain garden and water quality pond. These measures were already part of the plan as a means to regulate any potential pollutants in runoff from the dealership, but the commissioners made it a condition to ensure that the measures are executed as discussed.
One of the initial conditions was increasing the averaged area of the buffer for the sake of “overall preservation.” Buffer averaging means reducing the buffered area in some parts of the property for the sake of development, while increasing it in other areas so there is ultimately more protected area.
“Some of the critical water quality zone over the entire property is being substantially reduced in favor of being increased in the northwest corner,” Commissioner Richard Brimer said. “Why was that corner chosen? It looks to me on the map like a matter of convenience – it’s further away from all the activity … but it also looks like it’s being done to the detriment of the water quality zone on this piece of property. I’m wondering about the trade-off.”
In response, Vann said this was the best they could do. The area where the buffer is being reduced was initially intended for Mercedes-Benz storage space, and anywhere else on the site would have been more detrimental to the function of the dealership. He said they’ve been in the permitting process for over a year with the city, the buffer averaging was previously negotiated with review staff, and the variance request is really only for the construction of the driveways.
Ultimately the request was recommended unanimously, and South Austin will soon have a luxury car showroom under construction.
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